Equality "at the heart of everything Unite does"

Unite Equalities celebrates International Women's Day with inspiring online webinar

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Unite Equalities celebrated International Women’s Day on Wednesday (March 8) with an inspiring online webinar that featured a range of Unite women activists making a difference in their workplaces.

The online event was hosted by Unite national officer for equalities Allison Spencer-Scragg and Unite national chair of the women’s committee Jane Stewart, who is also on the union’s Executive Council.

Jane spoke of the challenges women continue to face today, especially in light of the cost of living crisis, such as unequal pay. She hailed that Unite is now led by its first ever female general secretary Sharon Graham and highlighted the difference she’s made for the union’s women members.

“We are determined that equality for women will be at the heart of everything our union does – not lip service, not slogans, but tangible benefits that address the income inequality that women continue to face,” Jane said.

Unite hospitality Claire Trevor was also among the online event’s speakers. Claire spoke of how she first joined and got involved as a member of Unite when chain restaurant TGIF workers organised and fought for better and pay conditions.

She also highlighted how Unite helped her gain the confidence to speak out.

“One of my favourite quotes is ‘When the door you’ve been knocking on finally swings open, you don’t ask why, you run through it’,” she said. “Remember this when you’re invited to participate in something and you’re worried that you might not be enough. Because it’s really important to be the woman who stands up and tries her best – to give confidence and hope to other women who need it.”

The webinar also heard from Unite activist Mary Callaghan, who’s an ambassador for the Get Me Home Safely campaign, which is lobbying for safe transport home for women who work in night-time industries such as transport and hospitality, among others.

Mary told the webinar how she helped secure a Get Me Home Safely agreement at Wigan Council.

Afterwards, two Unite reps from the finance sector, Kelly Shaw and Shital Pau, highlighted important victories in their workplaces, including securing cost of living payments for members and period dignity agreements from their employer.

Unite rep Monique Mosley, who works for food manufacturing firm Greencore, explained how she is working to establish a menopause policy in her workplace.

Also featured in the webinar were two videos – one of the Get Me Home Safely campaign and another telling the story of Tracey Scholes, a Unite member and bus driver who was suspended from her job for essentially being too short after the buses was redesigned. Thanks to support from Unite, Tracey eventually won her job back.

The webinar moreover polled attendees on a number of questions, such as how involved women members are in negotiations in their workplaces, and what sorts of equalities campaigns they’d like to see more of in the future.

Jane and Alison went on to highlight courses that the union will offer during National Women’s Week in August, as well as model workplace policies that members can download straight from Unite’s website to present to their employers.

Closing the webinar, Unite assistant general secretary for equalities Diana Holland hailed the role that women have played in Unite and the wider trade union movement.

Wishing attendees a happy International Women’s Day, Diana said, “It is a day to celebrate achievements, but it’s also a day to redouble our commitment to the struggle of women all over the world – for justice, fairness and equality.”

Diana explained how the pandemic exacerbated the inequalities that women face, such as over issues on childcare provision, inadequate PPE and the increase in domestic violence. She also spoke of the struggles faced by migrant domestic workers and told the inspiring story of the Ascot Martyrs.

Diana urged women members to become more involved in Unite.

“If you’re thinking can I, should I – just do. Get involved. Think about making sure that we tackle underrepresentation; that we remain a really strong, united force; that we recognise we’re diverse. Women aren’t all the same – that is our strength. But we need to make sure that underrepresented women – black women, disabled women, LGBT+ women, everybody – is properly included. That is where we get our strength from.”

You can find out more about how Unite is supporting and encouraging women members to become more involved in their union on our website here.

By Hajera Blagg